As I’ve mentioned before, I am a Student Paramedic studying part time through the Open University. This means that unlike full time students, I don’t do placement blocks as an extra person on an Ambulance, I work full time for the Service as a crew of (usually) two on a Double Crewed Ambulance (DCA).
Studying this way – I feel – gives me better exposure to lots of different types of emergencies and how to manage them with just the two of you (having a 3rd person there does make a massive difference in critical situations). It does mean that it takes longer (1 year probation plus 4 years study as a apposed to 3 years through University) and I have to study in and around my shifts – including hospital placements which have to be done in my own time, but I think that learning ‘on the job’ is a much better option. You can’t learn how to simply talk to people or reassure them at university, that’s evident from some of the young newly qualified Paramedics I’ve seen.
Studying this way also means that I am taught new skills as I progress and allowed to perform procedures on my patients. I’ve recently been given all of the Paramedic skill to add to my arsenal.
If you want to Google them, they are:
Intra-oseos (IO) access
Needle Thoracocentesis and
Advanced Life Support (my assessment for this one is during my final year).
Cannulation is our most often practiced skill. It involves putting a small plastic tube into a vein using a needle (IV access). This allows us to give fluids, drugs and now in certain situations with help from our Air Ambulance Critical Care Paramedics, blood.
IO access is only used in truly life threatening situations, when the patient is so ‘shut down’ that you can’t get IV access, or if they’ve suffered amputations. It’s also the first line of access in paediatric cardiac arrest (no pulse and not breathing). It involves a much larger, longer needle which we attach to a special drill and drill into the bone marrow. Seriously, that’s what we do! I’ve seen it done three times and only once on a conscious casualty. It really is our last line of access because it’s so aggressive, apart from paediatric cardiac arrest – just think on that for a minute!
Intubation is only used in cardiac arrest. It involves using a curved metal blade to lift the tongue and jaw out of the way to visualise the vocal cords. We then pass a plastic tube through the cords into the main windpipe leading to the lungs, thereby blocking off the oesophagus to reduce the chance of vomit getting into the lungs. We then attach it to a ventilator of some sort to breathe for the patient.
Needle Cricothyroidotomy or Needle Cric’ (pronounced cryke) for short is when the shit really hits the fan. If you’re pulling this out of the bag, it really is do or die! We only use this when a patient has a complete upper airway obstruction that cannot be removed by the heimlich manoeuvre or by using the intubation blade to find and some special pliers to remove the blockage. This patient will die if you don’t perform this technique. It involves using the largest cannula we have (like a bloody scaffolding pole) and pushing it through the throat into the windpipe, attaching an oxygen tube to it and turning it on and off to emulate breathing. Once this is done, you have 20 minutes to get the patient to definitive care of they die. This will be a bad day at work.
Needle Thoracocentesis is used when a patient has a collapsed lung which is ‘tensioning’. This is when the lung collapses and then gets smaller and smaller until it compresses agains the heart impeding its ability to beat. Again, this is fatal if untreated. So all we do is get that massive cannula and push it between the ribs to allow the air that’s outside the lung to escape and the lung to re-inflate. Scary stuff.
Advanced life support is pretty much a combination of all of the above with a cocktail of different drugs used in the management of cardiac arrest. With all of this, we are able to offer the same treatment for cardiac arrest in someone’s living room that would be offered in an A&E resus’ room.
So far, I’ve cannulated plenty of actual human beings, but none of the other stuff. The time will come for me to use these skills *gulp* and it’ll be fine.
This is actual grown up stuff now…wish me luck! I’ll report back with tales of how I’ve used these skills to save hundreds and hundreds of lives!